neutrality Met Privacy
Incorporating the consideration of privacy into the ongoing debate
concerning network neutrality.
WhAt iF the U.S. Con- gress passed a new law prohibiting Inter- net Service Providers (ISPs) from looking at
any part of any packet they route except
for the destination IP addresses? The
law would accomplish three things.
First, the new law would grant users an extraordinary amount of privacy. By keeping prying eyes (and
packet sniffers) away from virtually
every part of every packet, it would
encapsulate all Internet communications within private tunnels, not of
encryption but of law.
Second, the law would mandate
a form of network neutrality, the
now-well-known principle that ISPs
should not be allowed to treat packets differently based on application, content, or source.a For several
years, legions of fierce advocates on
both sides have debated whether
the U.S. government should impose
some form of mandatory Net neutrality, with their attention focused
lately on the FCC, which is considering such a rule. Despite these years
of debate, very few have examined
the underexplored relationship between two important Internet values: Net neutrality and privacy.
An ISP that wants to treat packets
differently based on application, con-
tent, or source must first peer deeply
enough into those packets to deter-
mine their application, content, or
source. If our hypothetical law pro-
hibits an ISP from examining this
type of information, then all packets
will look alike and discrimination will
be impossible. A privacy-respecting
network is a neutral network.
the Electronic Communications
Privacy Act of 1986
The Federal Electronic Communica-
tions Privacy Act (ECPA), originally
enacted in 1986, prohibits the unjus-
a Commentators have defined Net neutrality in
dozens of subtly different ways. This column
uses the definition stated here in the text.
PhotograPh by Jason WaLton
Protesters at net neutrality rally in may 2008.